INTRODUCTION

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Introduction
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"If I am not doing anything wrong, why should I care if my employer or the government is reading my email, watching my internet use, and using video to keep me under surveillance?"

"Of course I Google him and check his Facebook /Myspace page before I go out with him! I don't want to go on a date with some creep!"

"I would categorize job applicants with data-mining tools. I want to be sure to hire the best employees!”

            These paraphrased comments come from college seniors in an ethics seminar entitled "Ethics and Technology." They echo the sentiments of many students who live amidst a plethora of innovative and rapidly evolving technologies. It is remarkable that, although essentially impossible as little as ten years ago, these practices seem to have been accepted without any ethical concerns about privacy, accuracy, or fairness.  Many students are members of social networks that often contain what was once considered "private" information, they accept that corporations will monitor their workplace and personal behaviors, and that the government may be reading their email and assigning them "terrorist risk assessments." We each make daily moral decisions regarding our use of technologies but rarely are we asked to explain or justify those decisions from an ethical standpoint. The ethics of the technology used today remains unexamined by the majority of users.
The speed of change in modern society has been likened to "a sports car with no lights, hurtling through the dark at a constantly accelerating speed. Most of the car’s passengers look rather dazed …. And no one in the car knows where the brake pedal is, if there even is one.” 1 As dazed passengers, we realize that surveillance is ubiquitous, from government monitoring of phone calls, emails, and international travel patterns, to corporate monitoring of web-site visits, communications, physical location, and computer keystrokes. 2 We accept genetic testing, DNA fingerprinting, modified foods, virtual worlds, and a barrage of technological advances, and only rarely step back to ask “does our ability to use these new technologies mean that we should use them?” The authors took the time to confront how new technologies are shaping the ethics of their age.

            This book represents the efforts of a group of bright and talented students to analyze the ethics of the technologies that they currently take for granted, and to ask whether evolving technologies may require new ethics. The contents of this book are entirely researched, written, edited, and published by a group of seniors at the Leeds School of Business. The goal of the seminar was to provide a framework 3 within which moral dilemmas regarding technologies, cyber-technology in particular, can be identified, analyzed and discussed. As all these students have a sense of ethics, there was no attempt to "teach ethics." Instead, the assumptions that support moral perspectives were brought to the surface and challenged. Rather than debating whether the use of a particular technology was "correct" or "incorrect," the students engaged in examining how valid, sound, and persuasive arguments 3 for policies or decisions regarding technology and its uses can be constructed.
From the “trolley problem,” the philosophy of privacy, professional codes of conduct, and data mining 5 to Mellow's justification for the Iraq War, 6 Bandura's theory of moral disengagement, 7 and Whetstone's triparite prescription for servant leadership, 8 the abstract theories of ethics were grounded in real-world examples. The difficulties in balancing ethical positions such as utility, duty, fairness and promoting virtuous behaviors (e.g. honesty, trust, loyalty, integrity and courage) were revealed as students difficult wrestled with the process of crafting policies and guidelines for corporate governance.
Using current news and academic literature, students identified technologies, which require us to reexamine our values. The depth, breadth and speed of change of the issues surrounding technologies in business, government, and society and the difficulty in developing coherent ethical policies in this environment were revealed as authors selected topics to pursue, selected papers and articles to present, and led class discussions of the ethics of the issues.
Topics ran the gamut of advancing technologies including employee surveillance, Radio Frequency Identification technology, use of social networks for employee screening, intellectual property in a digital environment, violence in video games, and advances in military technology. The concepts of public/private spheres, and the relationship of technologies to privacy, to security, and to honesty are complex and often contextual issues. The business environment many of these authors will enter is under ever-greater scrutiny from many different stakeholders. As they react to, and create policies regarding the use of technology in their chosen profession, in society, and in their lives these students will be well served by an ability to recognize, justify, and be persuasive in the ethical application of new technology.

            Researching and writing these papers required that the authors challenge their own beliefs and take a position on the issues. This is a thorny task when there is no “right answer” to which they can refer. But each of the authors engaged in a critical component of education – participation in the debate. These students now have a greater awareness of the benefits and risks inherent in the technologies now in use and have the skills to confront the ethical considerations of new technologies as they appear. These skills differentiate them from most seniors in a critical area of business and society – the domain of Ethics of Technology.

 

Dr. Dirk S Hovorka
Scholar in Residence
Leeds School of Business
University of Colorado at Boulder

 

 

Works Cited

[1] Toda, M, “History of human societies as molded by human emotions: Past, present
and future”, Social Science Information Sur Les Sciences Sociales 40 (1): 153-176
MAR 2001

[2] Stanley, J., and Steinhardt, B. "Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains:
The Growth of an American Surveillance Society," American Civil Liberties Union
New York, 2003.

[3] Available at: http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/decision/framework.html

[4] Tavinii, H.T., Ethics and Technology: Ethical Issues in an Age of Information and
Communication Technology, 2nd edition, John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, 2007

[5] “Why Math Will Rock Your World” , Business Week, January 23, 2006

[6] Mellow, D. “Iraq: A Morally Justified War”, Journal of Philosophy, 23(3) 2006 pp
293-310

[7] Bandura, A. "Moral disengagement in the perpetration of inhumanities," International
     Journal of Psychology (31) 1996, pp 3881-3895.

[8] Whetstone, J.T. "How Virtue Fits Within Business Ethics," Journal of Business Ethics

      (33) 2001, pp 101-114.